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The Last Street Novel, Page 3

Omar Tyree

  He said, “It’s a little too early for this screaming and yelling shit in my ear in the morning, man. I still got a hangover from last night.”

  “Aw, stop girlin’ and get the fuck up. You ain’t even drink that much last night. You see Shareef up bright and early. Now don’t tell me that nigga can outdrink you and still get up and do a interview in the morning.”

  Trap continued to shake his head. Polo needed some Ritalin for attention deficit disorder. The man was far too hyper, and he had been that way his entire life.

  INSIDE THE LARGE FAMILY ROOM of the Morningside Heights home that Shareef had bought for his proud grandparents, Charles and Wilma Pickett watched their grandson from their twin rocking chairs that sat in front of their forty-six-inch, floor model TV, another gift from Shareef. They were both fully dressed, gray-haired, walnut brown, wearing reading glasses, and ready for their early-morning walk after the news. They had been married for forty-seven years and he had just recently retired from work at the post office. They had been together for two years before marriage when Wilma got pregnant with Shareef’s mother, Patrice, and asked Charles if he would marry her. Watching their only grandson, who had become a celebrity author, on the New York Cable Network news was an extra treat for them.

  “He sure is a fresh somethin’,” Wilma commented with a giggle.

  All Charles did was grin. He was fresh, too, once. That was what a vibrant man was supposed to be. After holding his tongue for a minute, he decided to speak up about it.

  “If somebody else wasn’t fresh, that boy wouldn’t have been here. None of us would have been here,” he added. “So just let that boy do what he do now.”

  Wilma eyed her husband through her glasses and grunted, “Mmm, hmm. Sounds like somebody still thinking about his middle age. Well, just don’t let me find out you bought no Miagra. ’Cause them wild and crazy days are over for me.”

  “The word is Vi-agra,” he corrected her.

  “Mi-agra, Vi-agra, whatever. You know what I’m talking about.”

  Charles shook his head and grumbled, “You ain’t never been wild and crazy. Maybe in your own mind, but definitely not to me.”

  She continued to stare her husband down.

  “Now what you mean by that, Charles? Speak your mind.”

  He said, “I already spoke my mind. Now cut it out, I’m trying to hear the rest of this boy’s interview. You know they ain’t gon’ have him on there much longer.”

  “Mmm, hmm,” she grunted again. “Well, we gon’ finish our conversation as soon as his interview is over with.”

  Charles decided to ignore his wife and listen to his grandson from the TV. He could fight with her anytime. And he did, every day of the week. But their fights had somehow kept his blood pumping, and his views had done the same for her.

  BACK ON AIR at the NYCN station, Heather Cooke had regained her composure.

  “So, you were the first recipient of the Black Hearts Book Award.”

  “Yeah, I won the first three Black Hearts awards for contemporary male romance before I asked the voters to honor someone else. I wanted to give other brothers a chance to show and prove with their writing.”

  Heather nodded to him. “Well, that’s pretty nice of you.”

  Shareef grinned at her. “Yeah, I try to be nice sometimes, you know. People like you when you’re nice, nice and bad,” he flirted with her again, and chuckled.

  Heather smiled it off and got back to business.

  “Okay, so you have a lunchtime signing at the Virgin Records store in Times Square.”

  “That’s right, from twelve noon to two,” he filled in.

  “Then you have a reading and Q and A tonight in Harlem at the Hue-Man bookstore at seven.”

  Shareef nodded. “Yeah, that one’s gonna be big fun, back to the home turf again in Harlem.”

  “Well, it’s been great talking to you this morning, and we all wish you the best of luck on your new book.”

  With the red light of the camera finally off them, Heather’s co-reporters introduced the next news story and the weather report.

  Heather then asked Shareef, “How many cities are you touring to this year?”


  Her eyes stretched open. “Wow, that’s quite a schedule.” She expected him to say nine or so.

  He said, “A lot of people want to see me. But each city is its own adventure.” He then looked her in her eyes and added, “I’ll tell you all about it if you’re free for dinner after nine.”

  The man was like an arrow straight to a girl’s heart. He wasted no time with it.

  Heather looked around embarrassingly to see how many of her coworkers overheard him.

  In her hesitation, Shareef pulled out a business card and slid it into the palm of her right hand as he stood to leave.

  “All it is is food, drink, and simple conversation on me. Then you get a free limo ride back home. So call me.”

  She nodded to him quickly and didn’t say a word. The faster she acknowledged him, the faster she could get his flirtations over with. As for his business card, she didn’t quite know what to do with it. How could she slide it into her purse without it being obvious to everyone?

  Shit! she cursed. Shareef Crawford had put her on the spot at her job and had slipped out of the room like Bruce Wayne running to change into Batman.

  I wonder how many of his romance stories are based on his own rendezvous, Heather asked herself. However, since she was already involved, she was not interested in finding that information out.

  AS SOON as Shareef exited the building to meet up with his limo driver, his cell phone went off. He looked down at the screen and read Polo’s number before he answered it.

  “Yeah, what’s up, man?”

  He knew damn well what his friend wanted to talk about that morning.

  “Yo, son, what she say about hooking up? Give me all the details,” Polo stated immediately. He said, “I know she was feeling you. I could see it in her eyes. You had her stumbling over her words and shit. You probably got her li’l panties moist this morning.”

  Shareef smiled while Polo kept going with it.

  “You think she wearing a thong or no panties? I mean, did you see ’em, like a line around her ass or anything?”

  Polo was a riot. Shareef shook his head and got serious with his answer.

  “Look, I gave her my number, man, and pushed up on her the way you’re supposed to. She probably used to guys trying to get her on the low because she’s on TV every day, so I did mine out in the open to get her to think about it stronger. Otherwise, I’m just another player trying to holler.”

  Polo disagreed. “Nah, fuck that, she know you more than the average nigga, son. You put it on her way too strong this morning for that. Save that sucker shit for the bill collectors.”

  Shareef chuckled and spotted his driver parked in front of two yellow taxis that were pulling up to the curb.

  He said, “A woman like her got a man already anyway. Ain’t nobody letting her roam around out here alone. So I don’t expect much from it. If she call she call. But yo, let me hit you back later. I gotta make this radio interview at WLIB, then get me some breakfast, and get ready for this first book signing at Virgin.”

  He stated, “It’s time to go to work, baby. Time to go to work.”

  “Oh yeah, do your thing, B. I’ll just see you up in Harlem tonight at Hue-Man. But I probably won’t get there until eight, to see what kind of fly stunts show up for you this year.”

  Polo laughed loudly over the phone and said, “You know how I do. You can’t have ’em all. So I’ma scoop up your rejects tonight like I always do.”

  Shareef ended the call with a smile on his face.

  His driver jumped out of the car to open the back door.

  “I had to move up a bit for these taxis to get in,” he explained.

  “It’s all good, man, it’s New York. Nobody stands still here.”

  Daryl laughed and sa
id, “Now that’s the truth.” He closed the door behind his client and scrambled back over to the wheel to drive.

  THE BLACK LINCOLN pulled up to the WLIB radio tower on Park Avenue at 8:23 AM. Shareef hopped out, made his way up to the top floor, and charmed everyone in the building. He signed copies of his new book for the staff, the hosts, and as giveaways for the lucky fans who called in during the show. It was all part of touring in the publishing world.

  By the time he was off the air and back inside the limo at 9:30, the hardworking author was starving for something solid. He hadn’t had time to stop and eat that morning, and doughnuts, snacks, and coffee just weren’t going to cut it. So he had turned all of those teasers down.

  He told his driver, “Hey, man, it’s time to get me something to eat at one of these breakfast spots before I fall out in here.”

  Daryl looked into his rearview mirror and chuckled. “Oh, I got you. You wanna order room service back at the hotel? That way you can get some rest before your signing at Virgin.”

  Shareef answered, “Nah, man, I’m back in New York. I don’t want to be cooped up in no room. I wanna see my city while I’m still here. I can rest when I get to the next city.”

  The limo driver continued to laugh. He said, “Aw’ight, we’ll find you a breakfast spot then. That’s easy. What city you headed to next?”

  “After New Jersey tomorrow, I hit Philadelphia. Then I hit Baltimore and D.C.”

  Daryl nodded. “Where you go after that?”

  “Atlanta, Jacksonville, Houston, Memphis, Birmingham—”

  The driver cut him off, “Birmingham? Alabama?”

  Birmingham, Alabama, didn’t sound like much of a book-reading city to him.

  Shareef said, “Yeah, Birmingham gives me much love, in a whole lot of ways. Ay, don’t sleep on the old school, man. Old southern cities like Birmingham are dying for black culture.”

  The driver nodded. He said, “You learn something new every day.”

  “Oh yeah,” Shareef agreed. “You learn a whole lot when you travel. I’m ready to start traveling around the world. I’ve seen mostly everything now in America.”

  “Must be nice to be able to travel like that,” his driver commented.

  Shareef said, “Shit, man, all it takes is a bus ride. Take your family somewhere on the bus and stay a couple of nights at the Holiday Inn. From New York, you could go up to Connecticut, Boston, the Hamptons, or down to Philly, D.C., Baltimore, just to let your kids see another city.”

  He said, “I mean, I’m from New York and I love New York, man, but this is just one small place in the world. And it eats up all your money. So if you can get out of here with your family, then do it, and just come back to visit when you need to.”

  Daryl responded, “Yeah, that all sounds good, but for a limo driver, New York is the place to be. I could move down to Jersey for my family though. But I just never liked New Jersey. I mean, New Jersey just seem like, you got right up to the gates of New York and couldn’t get in. You know what I mean?”

  Shareef smiled, planning to cut his argument short.

  He answered, “Yeah, I know what you mean. New York City seduces people that way.”

  BY 11:00 AM the streets of New York were in full buzz about the new Shareef Crawford novel. First printing hardback copies of The Full Moon were being sold fresh out of their boxes in the Virgin Megastore, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Waldenbooks at the malls and shopping centers, and by a hundred independent bookstores and street vendors in downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and of course, on the busy streets of Harlem.

  Urban women began to clutch their new craving of romance to their chests like Bibles, reading them on the trains, buses, taxis, and inside the offices, retail stores, and restaurants where they worked. Shareef Crawford had struck gold again and life was good.

  As he finished the last bites of his breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, grits, home-style potatoes, wheat toast with butter and jelly, and orange juice at The Hot Spot Cafe in Midtown, he received another call on his cell phone. Shareef wiped his mouth, took another sip of his refilled orange juice, and looked down at the screen before he answered it. It was a 212 number—this time his editor at the publishing offices back up in the Times Square area.

  “Hey, Bill, everything’s feeling good so far, man,” he addressed his editor of the past seven years. William Sorenski was one of the few male editors of romantic fiction at any publishing house, and he and Shareef had formed a successful relationship. They were roughly the same age, in their early thirties, both married, both attended school in the south, and they were both ambitious about their futures in the publishing industry. Bill was itching to become a publishing boss one day, and Shareef knew it. Shareef was prepared for a long career at the top of the bestsellers charts, and Bill knew that. The next frontier for both of them were packaging creative and intellectual rights from their book titles into television, feature films, and stage play deals to acquire an even larger reading audience. A guest spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show wouldn’t hurt in that capacity, either.

  “I hear you were turning up the heat early this morning on the New York Cable Network,” Bill commented.

  “Yeah, you know how I do. But don’t tell me you missed another one of my live interviews.”

  “I had my assistant tape it for me.”

  “Yeah, here we go. So now you can play it over and over again and tell me what I said wrong, right?”

  “Well, you are still married aren’t you? From what I hear, you were getting hot and heavy with Heather Cooke.”

  “It was that obvious, hunh?”

  “Well, as long as your readers respond to it. You never talk about being married anyway. So they all believe they have a chance.”

  “And that’s exactly how you have to do ’em, too. But I am separated.”

  “Well, if it’ll make you feel better, I would probably get into trouble with Heather Cooke myself if I was a guest on the show. Only she would probably have me stuttering instead of it being the other way around. And that would only make my wife more incensed.”

  Shareef laughed and said, “Yeah, I can imagine. ‘Why did that mulatto woman have you stuttering, William? I want to know,’” he teased.

  Bill responded, “I think my wife already knows why Heather would have a guy stuttering. But I hear you had her stuttering. You think you can do that with Oprah?”

  Shareef stopped laughing and paused. He had an image of Oprah Winfrey in his mind. She wasn’t exactly his kind of woman, either physically or in age.

  He said, “I don’t know about no Oprah, man. I mean, my powers can only stretch so far. And I don’t really have anything to offer to her audience unless I write a couple of books about down-on-their-luck white women. I mean…Oprah just don’t deal with that many black books, or with black men in general.”

  Bill said, “She had Tyler Perry on her show.”

  “Yeah, because he created that grandma Madea thing. I mean, you want me to write something like that? White women look at that as comical. It crossed over. But, you know, man, I’m already separated from my brothers as it is. I start writing stuff like that and…I mean, I played football with guys. I’m a locker room kid. I’m not trying to get that far away from things. I have enough problems explaining what I write about now.”

  “Shareef, I’m not telling you what to write. I’m just trying to figure out how we can cross over. Maybe you could have a show on Oprah about the disrespect of intellectual black men. You’ve always seemed to talk about that. And your novels, even though they deal with romance, have had some of the strongest black male voices in contemporary fiction.”

  “Yeah, because I know how real brothers think. We used to be up at all times of night, debating everything under the sun at Morehouse. So I just know.”

  “Well, it’s just something for us to think about as we attempt to, ah, make our move into television and film. We have to find new ways to engage a larger audience. But anyw
ay, let’s save that conversation for later. We have a book tour to do. So, are you just about ready for your signing at Virgin?” Bill asked.

  “Come on, man, I’m always ready. I’m about to roll up to Virgin early, right now.”

  “That’s good, because the managers there have been dying to meet you. You could talk them into buying some more books before the lines get started.”

  “How many books did they buy?”

  “More than usual, but they could always buy more.”

  Shareef grinned and said, “Yeah, that’s with every bookstore.”

  “All right, well, go have fun. I have to take this call.”

  “Aw’ight, I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.”

  He ended the call and relaxed in his restaurant booth while his food continued to settle. It seemed no matter how many millions of books he sold, it was never enough. But what exactly was the purpose of it all? Did he want to sell more books about romance just to make more money? Or would he rather write about something that meant more?

  Yeah, and then be ignored for it, he pondered the idea. It was a catch22. Write serious content and receive awards from the literary elite while never being understood by the popular culture. Or write popular fiction that crosses over and opens up new bank accounts, while never being respected by the literary elite.

  Maybe I should write new books under a pseudonym, but that shit never seems to work.

  “Would you like anything else?” the waitress in a light blue apron asked. She broke Shareef out of his daydream.

  “Oh, nah, I’ll just, ah, take the bill.” And he gathered himself to leave.

  SHAREEF ARRIVED at the Virgin Megastore in the heart of Times Square near West 45th Street. He met with the store managers and staff and was treated like royalty. The line of book readers flooded into the store even before noon, packed with mostly black women and Latinas—young, old, short, tall, light, dark, skinny, plump, domestic, and international. Then there were men, who mostly wanted to write and publish poetry or novels themselves, or were simply buying books for the women in their lives, along with gay men, who dreamed of rendezvous with the author like some of the women did. But there were only a few crossovers in line, supporters from other races and cultures who were curious enough to enjoy the love and literature of black America. And Shareef sold them all, signed them all, worked them all, and smiled to them all, even though he still felt a sense of emptiness. He always felt as if there was more to do, and more ideas to explore in the creation of new literature.